You Can Count on Us
Volunteer vacations are one of the biggest trends in travel. If you've never really considered going on one, these volunteers' stories might just change your mind.
Habitat for Humanity habitat.org, from $900.
Helping the handicapped in Siedlce, Poland
"For three weeks, I taught English at a center for both physically and mentally handicapped adults. The mornings were spent with the physically handicapped—some of them could barely speak, and it was often very slow work. With the mentally handicapped, the mental range was very wide. Most of the time, we colored, read books, sang songs, or danced ("Hokey Pokey" was their favorite). They seemed to enjoy just having someone pay attention to them. One young woman, Agnes, had a beautiful singing voice. At my good-bye party, she gave me an autographed CD of her songs. People really are the same no matter where you go. We speak different languages, but we share the same interests and concerns." —Pat Kalicki, 71, Vienna, Ill.
Global Volunteers globalvolunteers.org, from $795.
Educating orphans in Ranong, Thailand
"I lived at the orphanage, so besides teaching four to five English classes a day, I also ate with the kids and hung out with them after school—it was all very different from my life as a teacher in the U.S. The kids, many of whom were tsunami orphans, didn't speak a lot of English, but somehow we were able to make it work. We'd sing songs, and I'd read them stories, and I had a world map so they could learn the names of other countries. I also brought supplies like crayons and sticky notes, which they just annihilated. When you live in an orphanage, you have to abandon the notion of privacy. I tried to explain to the kids that I don't like people in my room all the time, but they didn't understand and thought I'd be scared or lonely." —Holly Graham, 29, Boston, Mass.
United Planet unitedplanet.org, from $1,345.
The prices listed are for each group's lowest-price one-week trip and include accommodations, meals, transportation within the country, supplies, and certain activities. Some run domestic and international trips; others only work abroad.